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Live Every Day Like You Travel: 4 Lessons from the Road

“Our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as being able to remake ourselves.” ~ Gandhi

What if we lived the way we travel?

It’s been my experience that we let go of many things when we travel. I’d like to propose that those things—the things we loosen our grip on while travelling—are things that don’t need to be held quite so firmly.

1. Notice. Slow down. Reflect.

San Miguel de Allende is one of my favorite places on earth. I’ve visited nine or ten times. If asked to describe heaven, I’d say that it was a long weekend in San Miguel.

After a gorgeous night’s sleep in Room number eight, I’d start to see things differently. I’d become absorbed by the way the golden light fell across our bed. I’d notice the specks of dust in the light shaft, like tiny astronauts travelling between the earth and the sun.

In the town, I’d observe the dogs walking on the shaded side of the street and follow their example. Everything in my path seemed beautiful and noteworthy: the way that rain drops hit the cobblestone streets, the crayola-colors of folk art in store windows, and the markets that smelled like cheese and chicken feet.

We sit at a cafe, content to drink limonada, and people-watch for hours.

We rarely do this at home because we believe there are very important things that must be accomplished, and that we can’t waste time at cafes. Vacations help us understand that we’re not quite as essential to our workplace as we thought. They’re getting by just fine without us.

Noticing leads to slowing down which allows us to reflect. We spend time observing the shape of things. Life exhales and rolls out ahead of us. We dream.

We begin to notice what needs more attention. Romance. Health. Connection.

We begin to wonder—what if we started leaving work at 5:00 p.m.?

Travel is the most profound of all noticing projects.

2. Live with less stuff.

I am a person who is unreasonably attached to things and to people. Perhaps it’s because I have lived away from Canada for fifteen years and travelled to twenty-four countries—five of which I have lived in for a year or longer. I am constantly trying to create a home… even on vacation.

To pack a bag of just twenty-three kilograms feels like a consequence for bad behavior. Nevertheless I became an expert packer, planning outfits from matching trousers, skirts, and tops. At some point, however, the coordinated outfits gave way to jeans, neutral trousers, and black tops and jackets.

Who do I think I’m kidding, anyway? The Parisians know that I’m a tourist and I’m okay with that.

Where I used to pack matching earrings and necklaces for each outfit, I’ve begun opting for simplicity. I’ll take no jewelry other than what I wear on the plane: a simple pair of earrings, a beloved ring from Chaing Mai, and my watch.

The time I once spent managing my travel wardrobe is better spent in the gardens at Versailles, at lunch or browsing in the Red Wheelbarrow, a favorite book shop in Paris.

There’s also a decadent freedom that comes with being responsible for less stuff. It is easier to change your plan and stay for a few extra days, or hop on a train for Vienna.

How would it feel to live at home with the same amount of stuff we pack when we are traveling?

Light.

3. Talk to strangers.

My father can talk to anyone. It’s one of the things I most admire about him—this ability to begin a casual conversation, to put the other person at ease, and to crack a joke. I was a quiet and introspective kid and I didn’t think I had his gift.

As it turns out, talking to strangers was waiting inside of me—a latent gift from my father.

While living in Barcelona we spent a Christmas holiday in Eastern Europe. We were catching an early-morning train from Budapest to Prague and I grabbed seats while Damien went to find breakfast.

He arrived back with a Burger King bag (that’s how you roll sometimes when you’re travelling) and I proceeded to spill my very large drink all over the floor of our six-passenger car.

Mortified, I tried to mop up the mess with our napkins and, during the clean up efforts, a young woman joined us in our car. She was quite young—not yet twenty—and her father carried her bag onto the train for her. He had a kind face and he smiled at us as he got off.

Whether it was one of us who spoke first, or Szuszi, I can’t really be sure, but we talked like three old friends all the way from Budapest to Slovakia where she disembarked. As she gathered up her stuff, I wondered if I should give her my email address. The cautious part of me—I’ll blame it on my Canadianness—said “No!” but the intrepid traveller in me said, “Go for it.”

Several days later, I received an email from Szuszi. Since that day on the train we have visited Budapest, spent Boxing Day with her family, and her brothers have stayed with us in our Barcelona flat.

I remember feeling nervous as I handed her my email address. This kind of risk-taking is not my default mode, but reaching out has led to a rich friendship with someone living an inspirational life.

Why did that risk seemed easier on a train in Europe than it does at our grocery store or work place?

4. Reserve judgment.

When we travel, we don’t expect plans to unfold without a hitch—at least not if we are travelling on a budget. We don’t expect that people will speak English. We don’t expect to understand the cultural nuances of everything that happens.

Because we’re not at home and all bets are off.

Shortly after we moved to Bangkok, fifteen colleagues travelled to Koh Samed for a lovely beach weekend. One night, we found an outdoor Thai restaurant where the young waiter helped us move the tables into a long line close to the sea. We pored over our menus, trying to pronounce the names of these amazing dishes.

Some time after we’d ordered, someone wondered aloud about our food and decided to investigate. What he found was that the kitchen consisted of one guy with a wok. When he reported this back to the group, people’s eyes widened at the thought of this enormous task.

Our meals arrived one at a time, as they were ready. The last person’s meal arrived an hour after the first person had finished eating, but no one complained. This restaurant was not equipped to handle dinner for fifteen people at once, but they had done their best and we, in return, had accepted the speed with which they could deliver our meals.

I ate my phad thai with my bare toes buried in the sand.

Most work places are not as soothing as a Thai beach but, in a very profound way, they are like foreign countries. We cannot assume that everyone thinks like us or desires the same outcomes. My travels remind me not to judge a situation without thinking about that Thai dude with the wok.

What I’d really like is to live everyday more like I travel: to notice things, slow down and reflect, to be less attached to stuff, to engage with strangers, and to judge less frequently.

Imagine what it would be like to feel our toes in the sand of our own contented lives.

Photo by Inti

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About Monna McDiarmid

Monna McDiarmid writes about travel and gracious living for expats at http://MonnaMcDiarmid.com  She works as an international school counselor in Yokohama, Japan and helps teenagers with their big life stuff.  Japan is the sixth country she has called home.

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  • BrittanyLGilmore

    Great point. Great article. Thank you!

  • Blanca T

    As someone who loves travel, this article spoke to my heart. We are all travelling in this world after all, but it’s so easy to forget that in the huffing and puffing of everyday life!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=512870945 Cindi Borax

    Brilliant…thank you.

  • Debsstops

    Thanks for the reminder…beautifully written

  • http://www.facebook.com/jennifer.tomey Jenn Tomey

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. I like the idea of living everyday like you’re on vacation. What a beautiful perspective. I can’t wait to put these lessons to use. Thanks for sharing! :)

  • Star-stuff

    It so funny that you wrote this piece.  I always say, Vacation Me is so much better to be around than Normal Me.  And it’s because I am so able to just let go and really live each moment and relax and all that stuff.  And lately, I’ve been trying to be that way in my normal life, because I am so much more at peace that way.  It’s difficult because bad habits die hard, but I’m glad to see I’m not the only one.

  • Lv2terp

    Truly inspiring blog!! Very soothing, wise, and made me smile! I really like the questions after each section, really gives me a lot to think about…this is very true! Thank you for sharing!! :)

  • Sundancebleu

    Wonderful, thanks!

  • sue oaks

    I needed this advice today, thanks for a beautifully written article. Sue

  • Luismiguelmancera

    Hi…

    My name is Luis Mancera, I’m from Mexico and I live in Celaya Guanajuato at 20 minutes from San Miguel de Allende. I loved to read this article.

    I want to say thank you for talking about Mexico and sorry for my english language but I’m learning yet.

  • http://www.happyimpermanence.wordpress.com/ Christine Martin

    Monna, I can completely relate as I’ve lived overseas for 10 years. The attachment to things and people, the ability to take more risks while traveling, the comments about San Miguel. Very beautifully written. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Angus9046 Francesco Frajeo Cappellotto

    I’m Szuszi’s boyfriend. 

    So proud for so little right now! :-)

  • Kyah

    Very well written! Thank you for your insight.

  • designred

     I was really touched by this article, obviously there is more for me to explore about myself.  I have been de-cluttering my home and in the process myself.  I too love to travel and enjoy the freedom of meeting people and exploring.

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

    Hi Brittany. Thanks for being the first person to comment on my post. You started a good thing!

  • harvey

    Being away from home seems pre requisite for letting go of all the compulsive thinking and behaviors that are at default when home. The bills, the home repairs, and yard and banking and kids and recovery and work…everything seems geared to mindless activity. And even when nothing is pressing, the auto response is to keep busy. Do-do-do. 

    And then ur away from home and wow, since i can’t take care of business (busyness) I let myself off the hook and literally smell the flowers. I have a goal. I want to return from vacation and keep wearing my vacation head. I mean, it’s all attitude is all. It’s a view of and attitude towards life. It’s grace. and there is no reason one can’t live life with grace and ease but for this guy, it’s been a slow and arduous process of increasing awareness and changing very slowly. 

    I used to be chronically depressed and ironically my happiest times were when I was on the road “between” point a and point b. Reason; because I was imagining how perfect and wonderful it was going to be in this new place and I hadn’t yet learned that “”where ever I go-there I am. Now that I have some say so over what my reality looks like, when I’m conscious I choose to breathe and experience what I call “temporary sanity” , all the while working towards longer and longer periods of being at peace with whatever reality throws at me and at peace with my self. I’m imperfect but doing the best I can. Almost always-

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

     Blanca, I really like what you said about us all travelling in this world. We are constantly travelling… while on vacation, while commuting and through the journey of life. I too sometimes struggle to enjoy the moment I’m in but slowing down helps me enormously. Thanks for your comment.

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

     Thanks, Cindi, for taking the time to tell me so. Have a lovely day.

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

    Thanks for your comment! The reminders are what I love so much about Tiny Buddha. We all have this knowledge inside of us… but sometimes we just need a little reminder or inspiration. A cosmic nudge in the right direction :)

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

    Thanks! When thinking and talking about our lives, it is so easy to get lost in the Land of “Should” rather than frolicking in the Garden of “I get to.” For example, this morning, in my role as Counselor and Health teacher, I get to talk with Grade 9 students about sex. Is that a cool job or what? Best wishes with your “get to’s”!

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

    I really love your description of “Vacation Me”
    and “Normal Me”. That’s totally it! When I think about Vacation Me, I
    see a woman wearing a fuchsia pink scarf and a big smile. Vacation Me is full
    of wonder and awe… and more willing to take risks and try new things. There
    is actually nothing in my image of Vacation Me that is geography-dependent.
    Like you, I want to create more Vacation Me time in my regular life. More
    fuchsia scarf moments! Best wishes to you.
     

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

    I’m so happy that the post made you smile; that’s how it makes me feel as well. Thanks, also, for noticing the questions at the end of each section.

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

    Thank you for taking the time to say thanks!

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

    Don’t you love it when that happens… when you hear the right words at the right time. Thanks for your lovely comment.

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

    Hello, Luis! I lived in Mexico for seven years and fell in love with the country. The interior of Mexico, in particular, has a very special place in my heart. I think we visited San Miguel de Allende ten times in those seven years and I feel so grateful for those vacations + my memories of some extraordinary trips like Easter + some gorgeous folk art that I bought in SM de A. Thank you very much for introducing yourself here!

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

    Christine! Hello there. Thanks for your beautiful comment here and for your interest in my blog + The Interiors Project. I would love to have you participate in Interiors and will email you with the details. Have a lovely day!

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

    Francesco! I am so glad to meet you :)

    Please give Szuszi a big hug for Damien and me. We miss her and hope that we can see each other soon. If you can’t come to Japan, then we will have to come to Italy. (Of course, that would make us very happy too!)

    It is very cool (and a little miraculous) that we are all in each others
    lives as a result of one train ride and an email address written on a
    scrap of paper.

    You totally made my day by leaving this comment. Thank you!

  • http://wowimhappynow.wordpress.com/ Marcelo Borges da Cruz

    Hi Monna, I’m a brazilian living in Australia and I really appreciate all the learnings and experiences that we can have by living or travelling abroad. Thanks for the post, really interesting!

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

    Kyah, thanks very much for your message.

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

    I keep encountering the idea that when I bring something new into our apartment, I should get rid of something I no longer need. I know it’s wise counsel… but I still feel attached to my things. It’s good to know that others are working away at these things as well :) Thanks for leaving a comment.

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

    Hello Marcelo. I totally agree with you… living overseas for 15 years has been the the equivalent of the best, most rigorous PhD I could have earned :) I am really happy that the post resonated with your experience as a Brazilian living in Australia.

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

    Thanks for your comment, Harvey. I agree that in order to live as we do when we are on vacation, we must enter/create a state of grace for ourselves. Perhaps there is something about the sound of the word “Grace” that makes it seem easy to attain… but of course it is not. I appreciated your description of “the slow and arduous process of increasing awareness and changing very slowly.”

    An idea that I’ve been flirting with recently is that grace actually exists in the attempt… that grace is in every step I take to reach a goal… to slow down or to judge less. I am trying to give myself more points for effort.

    There is no perfect. I’ll take genuine struggle and connection over “perfection” any day of the week.

    Best wishes on your journey.

  • Katy J

    lovey article, so well timed for me,  I have been made redundant and am turning it into the opportunity of a lifetime to travel and volunteer.  I’ve had my doubts about doing this rather than try and find another job but this article just made me smile and let out a deep breathe – i am doing the right thing.  I cant wait for my adventures ahead of me.  I am following my heart and it feels so good :)

  • Me

    Yuck. I found this article overwhelmingly pretentious. The valuable messages are lost in all of the name dropping.

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

    Best wishes with your new adventure, Katy! It takes such courage to change one’s life.

  • omwaombara

    This was a great read. I often talk to strangers while on a Journey too and some of these unplanned remarks have developd into friendships that lasted a lifetime. Thanks for the fond memories and the teachings of travel too!

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

    Perhaps that is one of the loveliest things about encounters with others while we are travelling – we simply don’t have any expectations of the strangers we meet. I’m happy to hear that you have found some lifelong friends this way… it makes me want to take the risk more often.

    Thanks for your comment!

  • Debra

    Great blog!Truer words,not spoken…I have never thought about vacation like that,but it is sooooo true…Wow!Got to think on this longer….Great perspective.
    It is all about slowing down,being in the
    moment and looking at life,people with awareness,and being “alive”in the moment.Thank you for your perspective.

  • http://www.offthemat.co.uk/ Rebecca

    I loved reading this post. Every word gave me a sense of freedom. I dream of living a life of travel, as you do, and experiencing the lightness that I imagine comes with it. But I don’t think I stopped to realise that the freedom of travel might be felt even if we stay rooted to the spot.

    Thank you for sharing. Your lessons for life are certainly worth living by, whether we’re globe-trotting or not.

  • Daisilla

    This reminded me of a poem a friend shared about greeting things as guests. Maybe not exactly the same as traveling but in tune with the idea that we’re all visiting earth, too: http://allpoetry.com/poem/8534703-The_Guest_House-by-Mewlana_Jalaluddin_Rumi

  • http://www.happyimpermanence.wordpress.com/ Christine Martin

    Awesome…can’t wait to hear from you again. Cheers.

  • Narelle

    I absolutely love this article and agree wholeheartedly with everything you wrote. Thanks for sharing and happy travelling, from an Aussie living in France (after having lived in Scotland and the US before that). :-)

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

    Thanks, Narelle. I really appreciate hearing from other expats; this way of life is unique – and extraordinary – isn’t it?

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

    “This being human is a guest house.
    Every morning a new arrival.”

    I totally agree. Thanks so much for sharing this poem; it is both beautiful and true.

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

    Hi Rebecca. Thanks for your kind words. I especially loved that the post gave you a sense of freedom. For me, the interesting thing about being an international educator is that I always have a deep sense that I can change my life… and that is freeing. Like you, I agree that we can have that sense at home as well.

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

    Debra, I agree that it is SO important to slow down and to be in the moment…. and even though I KNOW that, I need to be reminded… and I have to remind myself. Thanks for being part of that conversation.

  • BellaTerra

    I do live like this.  More and more over the past 20 years.  As for ‘stuff’, I’m getting ready to move again (for the last time and probably to SMA, as soon as the city cleans up its severe air pollution problem), and I was thinking that I’m so glad all I have are my two cats, my clothes (not a lot), a few boxes of favorite books, my music CDs and my computer.  (Right now I have a very beautifully furnished but small one-bedroom apartment, furnished by Goodwill, Freecycle, and things people have given to me — there is nothing I can’t leave behind.)  I used to be embarrassed when I started living simply.  Almost everyone I knew lived in big homes, condos or apartments, filled with lots of expensive things (and I was not — and am not — so ‘evolved’ that I did not and do not envy them sometimes).  And then I read this story — I’ve never been able to find it again — I wish I could because I know that I’m going to botch it somewhat in the retelling:  There was a very famous Rabbi who was known for his wisdom and love and generosity.  He lived in a one-room, small apartment, furnished with just some food, a table, a chair, a lamp, some books, some paper and pens, and a bed.  The king of the realm, on a journey to another city, decided to stop by and meet this Rabbi.  When the king arrived, the Rabbi invited him into his humble abode.  The king was very surprised and asked the Rabbi, “Where are all your possessions?!”  The Rabbi asked the king, “Where are yours?”  The king replied, “Oh, I am traveling, just passing through.”  The Rabbi smiled, “So am I.”  I remember this when I start to envy a friend or acquaintance all her ‘stuff’. 

  • http://monnamcdiarmid.com/ Monna McDiarmid

     Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. We are all just passing through.

  • Paul

    In a similar vain, check out this article about traveling with only what you can put in your pockets, no luggage

    http://voices.yahoo.com/turtleology-101-travel-witout-any-bags-12069586.html?cat=16